The psychology of change

This is a fascinating and highly relevant study about the psychological constructs that people use when engaging with complex and urgent issues.Β  The paper has just been published in the American Psychological Association’sΒ  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

A summary extract of the paper states:

The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed.

And the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware,

Through a series of five studies conducted in 2010 and 2011 with 511 adults in the United States and Canada, the researchers described β€œa chain reaction from ignorance about a subject to dependence on and trust in the government to deal with the issue.”

In one study, participants who felt most affected by the economic recession avoided information challenging the government’s ability to manage the economy. However, they did not avoid positive information, the study said. This study comprised 197 Americans with a mean age of 35 (111 women and 89 men), who had received complex information about the economy and had answered a question about how the economy is affecting them directly.

To test the links among dependence, trust and avoidance, researchers provided either a complex or simple description of the economy to a group of 58 Canadians, mean age 42, composed of 20 men and 38 women. The participants who received the complex description indicated higher levels of perceived helplessness in getting through the economic downturn, more dependence on and trust in the government to manage the economy, and less desire to learn more about the issue.


via Ignorance is Bliss When it Comes to Challenging Social Issues.


  1. I wonder whether this means that people already feel a bit powerless, given their economic loss of power and disconnection from political influence, so that when faced with problems that are large and complex, the picture is too overwhelming. I’ve always found in my work on behavioural change for environmental protection, that you need to give people something doable and comprehensible to get their collaboration. No one likes to feel dumb or inadequate.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.